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Al Ahly confident of reaching Club World Cup final

BBC News 01/02/2023
Chelsea are the current holders of the Club World Cup having beaten Brazilian side Palmeiras 2-1 in the final in 2021 © Getty Images Chelsea are the current holders of the Club World Cup having beaten Brazilian side Palmeiras 2-1 in the final in 2021

Al Ahly winger Ahmed Abdelkader is confident that the Egyptian club can become Africa's most successful club in the history of the Club World Cup.

The Egyptian giants, ten-time champions of Africa, open their campaign on Wednesday in Tangier against New Zealanders Auckland City in the only first round tie at the tournament in Morocco.

Should they win that match they will take on Seattle Sounders from the USA in round two, with the victors then meeting four-time winners Real Madrid in the last four.

"We want to go all the way. We want to give it our all and bring home the winner's medal," Abdelkader told the Fifa website.

"We have great ambition as well as a historic affiliation with the tournament, having taken part on seven previous occasions."

The last nine teams to win the competition have all been from Europe and the continent has provided the winners for 14 of the 18 editions held so far since the first one in 2000.

South America has provided the only check on their success, with Brazilian clubs having come out on top four times in the tournament's history, most recently in 2012 when Sao Paulo side Corinthians beat current holders Chelsea.

No team from any other region has ever won the Club World Cup, but this has not deterred the 23-year-old about his side's hopes for success.

"We respect Auckland City, just as we respect every other team we face. Every participating side is capable of putting on a strong performance, and we respect all our competitors," he added.

"We must approach every match on its own merit, and this game is no different. And yes, we've watched several of their games and know what they're capable of."

At 34, veteran goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy provides experience between the sticks for Ahly, Mali midfielder Aliou Dieng is regarded as the engine room in the middle, while striker Mohamed Sherif has scored five goals in 14 domestic games this season.

Al Ahly, who took third position in 2006, 2020 and 2021, only qualify as a second African participant having finished as runners-up to Wydad in last year's African Champions League final.

Inspired by Morocco's World Cup run

DR Congo's TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca of Morocco have delivered Africa's best performance at the tournament, finishing runners-up in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

Reigning African champions Wydad Casablanca, also doubling up as the host nation's representative, go straight into round two where they face Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.

Brazilian side Flamengo, who like Real advance straight to the semi-final stage, could be Wydad's last-four opponents on that side of the draw.

Excited fans in the North African country are still basking in the historic feat of becoming the first African nation to reach the last four on the global stage in Qatar.

Walid Regragui enjoyed an exceptional 2022. After lifting the Moroccan top-flight title and the African Champions League with Wydad in May, he masterminded the Atlas Lions' run to the 2022 World Cup semi-finals.

"It should be a good, even match, because Al Hilal are a mammoth of Saudi Arabian and Asian football," says Regragui, who knows the team quite well.

"They're the Real Madrid of Asia. They've got great fans and top-class players, just like Wydad. But home advantage should be a big help for Wydad."

Regragui identifies Yahia Attiyat Allah, the goalkeeper Reda Tagnaouti, captain Yahya Jabrane and midfielder Ayman El Hassouni as the stars to watch.

It is an optimism equally shared by another legend of the club.

Former Morocco captain Noureddine Naybet began his career at Wydad in 1989, helping them conquer Africa three years later.

Capped 115 times by the Atlas Lions, Naybet is equally confident that home support will be key to Wydad's quest to equal Raja's record in the competition.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic that Wydad are able and motivated to reach the final," said Naybet.

"We have home advantage and there will be massive support."

European heavyweight Real Madrid are favourites to win in Morocco, with the Spanish team seeking to become the first side in history to claim a fifth Club World Cup trophy.

But the biggest threat to their ambitions could be Brazil's most popular team, Flamengo. The Rio de Janeiro outfit will be out to make up for their loss to English side Liverpool in the final of the 2019 edition, hosted by Qatar.

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